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Dental Care For Cats and Dogs

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Dear Jake & Scout,
Let’s just say my breath is less than fresh and it is not from the wet cat food I have been feasting on. My human still nuzzles me but not without making a face. Help!

"Hallie" Tosis

Dear Hallie,
Dogs and cats benefit from good dental care, just as people do. Good dental habits begin early and include a healthy diet (preferably of dry food), regular tooth brushing, an annual physical examination to detect minor dental problems before they progress to major ones, and professional teeth cleaning when needed. Contact us about a dental exam.

The benefits of good dental care include more than sweet-smelling breath. Healthy teeth and gums decrease the risk of heart, kidney and liver disease, because bacteria in diseased gums travel through the bloodstream to these organs. In addition, good dental health reduces the need for tooth extractions.

Signs of dental disease include bad breath, gingivitis (a red gum line which may actually shrink back from its usual position), loose teeth and decreased interest in food that requires chewing. Some pets even become lethargic as their mouths become more painful.

One of the best ways to maintain good dental health is for your human to brush your teeth. They should start by softening the bristles of an ordinary soft toothbrush with warm water and applying pet toothpaste to the brush. Pet toothpastes, which are flavored to appeal to pets, contain enzymes that are specific to the chemistry of the dog and cat mouth. Human toothpastes are not recommended because they are ineffective, foam too much and cause stomach upset when pets swallow them.

Gently brush the cheek surfaces of the incisors, the front-most teeth. Over the next few sessions, extend the toothbrush further back in the mouth, so that eventually all teeth are brushed. The animal’s tongue removes much of the plaque from the inside surfaces of the teeth, so the brushing should focus on the cheek surfaces of the teeth, where most of the plaque forms. Tooth brushing is most effective if done daily, but every-other-day brushing also is beneficial.

Professional cleaning, when needed as a supplement to brushing, is done under general anesthesia. The crowns of the teeth are cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler, and the portions of the teeth under the gums are hand-scaled to remove plaque that would otherwise damage the gums. The teeth are polished to produce a smooth surface to which plaque cannot easily attach. Finally, a plaque prevention barrier is applied. Teeth are extracted only if necessary to ensure the health of the rest of the mouth. If needed, xrays are taken and antibiotics are prescribed. The first meal after the procedure should be light. If teeth were removed, your pet may prefer soft foods for this meal.

Good dental care keeps your pet’s mouth sweet-smelling and free of pain – and helps the rest of your pet’s body remain healthy, too.

Here's to good dental hygiene,

- Jake